Fast-Track Fight Accelerates As Vote Approaches

Dave Johnson

As Congress prepares to consider fast track legislation to essentially pre-approve (without reading) the still-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) opponents are working to get the word out and register opposition. Seattle’s city council is preparing to vote on a resolution opposing fast track, and a number of organizations sent an open letter spelling out what an acceptable fast track process would do.

Seattle Resolution Against Fast Track

The Seattle city council is preparing to vote next Monday on a resolution opposing fast track.

The Washington Fair Trade Coalition is requesting that Seattle residents email and call City Council to support a strong resolution against fast track. They would also like people to come to the City Council meeting on Monday, March 30, from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. People should show up by 1:45 p.m.

(The entire Council can be emailed at once with a message written to The general phone number for the Council is 206-684-8566.)

Open Letter To Senator Wyden Opposing Fast Track

A number of organizations signed an open letter to Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden expressing opposition to the old fast track process and listing minimum standards for a new process that the organizations would support.

The letter is titled, “Fast Track Trade Authority Must Be Replaced To Deliver Trade Agreement that Can Deliver Broad Benefits.” The letter was sent by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Citizens Trade Campaign, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Farmers Union, Public Citizen, Sierra Club and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

The previous letter asks for the following minimum standards in fast-track legislation:

1. Congressional role in selecting appropriate trade partners: Congress should set criteria, including with respect to human and labor rights compliance, environmental and public health standards, and market access opportunities for U.S. exporters, to determine whether a country is an appropriate trading partner for the United States. Congress must also have the opportunity to determine that a country proposed by the executive branch does not meet such criteria before negotiations commence and is unlikely to be an appropriate partner in the near term, in which case the trade agreement would not qualify for expedited procedures.

2. Mandatory negotiating objectives to ensure trade agreements deliver broad benefits: Congress should set mandatory negotiating objectives outlining what all U.S. trade agreements must and must not include. Congress must have the opportunity to add agreement-specific objectives.

3. Enhanced transparency to ensure meaningful congressional and public input: The Office of the United States Trade Representative must conduct broad, specific, and systematic congressional and public briefings on the progress that negotiators are making towards meeting the established negotiating objectives. In addition, negotiating texts should be made available to the public so that all stakeholders have the information to provide informed input to elected and appointed officials on the implications of the trade deal.

4. Congressional certification that trade goals have been met before trade negotiations are concluded: When executive branch negotiators believe that they have concluded negotiations, a final text must be released publicly and Congress must certify that the negotiating objectives have been satisfied before the text of a pact can be deemed final. Only such certification could trigger an expedited vote by Congress to approve the agreement.

5. Congressional approval of trade agreements and authorization for the executive branch to sign and enter into agreements: Congress would vote on trade agreements using expedited procedures only if the requirements enumerated above were met. Requiring explicit congressional approval to sign and enter into the agreement enables Congress to ensure that an agreement’s contents are acceptable at a time when changes could still be made, if necessary.

6. A mechanism for a sizeable minority of the House or Senate to obtain a vote on a resolution to remove an agreement from expedited consideration: As an additional safeguard, a sizeable minority in either chamber should be able to get a privileged floor vote in either chamber on a resolution to withdraw expedited consideration for any pact for a variety of reasons, such as lack of Congressional or public consultation/input or clear breach of negotiating objectives.

7. Trade negotiating authority must be considered in conjunction with related trade and economic policy legislation. For example, trade rules that cannot be enforced provide no real benefits for the American people, our environment, or our economy. Moreover, increased trade without concurrent investments in our infrastructure and workforce will surely result in lost opportunities. Addressing long-standing economic problems such as wage suppression and economic inequality will take more than new trade pacts.

Here is the letter:

March 23, 2015
Dear Senator:

Last fall, our organizations were joined by nearly 600 other unions and environmental, consumer, faith, family farm, civil rights, seniors, LGBT and other civil society organizations on a letter outlining the features of a trade authority mechanism that we would support. As negotiations on a prospective trade authority bill continue, we wanted to bring these criteria in the attached letter to your attention.

Given that the administration has failed to incorporate into the Trans-Pacific Partnership the enforceable disciplines against currency manipulation that bipartisan majorities in both the Senate and House support, it is even more critical now that Congress must not cede its leverage over the contents of American trade agreements.

Over the course of our nation’s history, Congress has regularly created new trade authority mechanisms as the subject matter of agreements has changed. In order to deal with today’s complex trade agreements and accelerating globalization, a 21st century trade authority that includes enhanced mechanisms for Congress to exercise its constitutional authority over trade agreements from start to finish is needed.

While it is important that Congress develop robust and binding negotiating mandates that outline what all U.S. trade agreements must and must not include, as detailed in the attached letter, even more important is the replacement of the outdated and failed Fast Track procedures.

Fast Track empowered a president to unilaterally select countries, determine the contents of agreements via negotiation, and sign and enter into them before Congress approved their texts, regardless of whether a pact met Congress’ statutory negotiating objectives defined under the Fast Track delegation. Fast Track further empowered a president to write and submit legislation to implement the trade agreement and after skirting normal congressional review and mark-up to be guaranteed votes in both chambers within 90 days. Importantly, neither the implementing bill nor the underlying trade deal could be amended, regardless of whether a pact met Congress’ statutory negotiating objectives.

The 1988 Fast Track allowed either the Ways and Means or Finance Committees to remove an agreement from expedited consideration before a president signed it and allowed any member of Congress to submit a “disapproval resolution” removing a pact from Fast Track, however these processes proved insufficient to enforce some of Congress’ negotiating objectives with respect to the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization agreements.

This reinforces why a new trade authority process must ensure that Congress, not the executive branch, determines when Congress’ negotiating objectives have been satisfied as well as requirements for increased congressional and public oversight over the process. To ensure better trade deals that work for all of us, it must open up the negotiating process to public scrutiny. Further, completed agreements must only be subject to expedited consideration if and when Congress determines that the conditions of its delegation are met.

We urge you to seize the historic opportunity to replace the outdated Fast Track procedures that our organizations so strongly oppose and create a new trade negotiating and approval process that would help deliver trade agreements that could benefit workers, communities, and the environment and, therefore, rebuild broad support for trade agreements.


American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

Citizens Trade Campaign
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
National Farmers Union
Public Citizen
Sierra Club
United Brotherhood of Carpenters

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